Hold Fast: Technologies of Distinction in the Australian Hardcore Music Scene

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Bennett, James
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Baker, Sarah
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Having emerged in the discourse of suburban American iterations of punk in the late 1970s, hardcore music has become an important cultural resource for groups around the world. The subsequent spread of the original musical tropes and development of multiple trajectories of musical and stylistic innovation have resulted in a complex and multifaceted constellation of ideas, practices and objects that now constitute the hardcore music scene. Despite its growth, scholarly discourse in the field continues to operate almost exclusively in response to what has come to be called the ‘subcultures’ framework (Clarke et al 1976). The focus has been placed on the question of whether such forms can be conceptualised in terms of coherent and subversive ideologies, effectively setting the parameters of the debate in ways that have marginalised considerations of the musical experiences of participation, and which have limited sociological attempts to comprehend the significance of hardcore music as a social force. While this research maintains an empirical focus on the Australian hardcore music scene, it also aims to address more fundamental questions about the relationship between music, identity, and culture. Central to these aims is a turn away from a focus on what DeNora has called ‘propositional “knowledge”’ (2000, p.84). That is, towards an analytical perspective that extends ‘well beyond the usual concern with the meanings of art objects’ (ibid. emphasis added) and pays attention to how the reflexive appropriation of musical materials is constitutive and regulative of agency (ibid. p.83) at the level of the body; how music organises the body and defines its potentialities. ‘By moving away from discourses of the body and moving towards a focus on bodyculture interaction, on temporal body practices,’ argues DeNora, ‘a grounded theory of the body’s cultural constitution has the capacity to move well beyond semiotic readings of bodily meanings’ (DeNora 2000, p.76, emphasis added). Researching the ‘body-culture interactions’ that comprise the dominant modes of participation in the hardcore scene means a focus on exploring the action capacities of bodies. This research aims to illuminate these processes through an emphasis on participants’ own discourse and to mediate interview testimony with ethnographic detail. Thus, the mixed methods approach comprises a combination of fieldwork and semi-structured one-to-one interviews with ‘hardcore kids’ who self-identify and who are identified by others as members of the hardcore scene. Rather than living out cultural trajectories that are predetermined by structural factors such as class, hardcore kids become involved with the scene for many reasons. Identities are forged not through the activation of class-based knowledges or the expression of discursive style-based literacies, but in the acquisition of skill, which is both honed and perceived in the experience of place. Key to the development of the embodied competencies that constitute subjects as of the hardcore scene is the provision of environments that afford them opportunities to perceive and act in specific ways, thus facilitating distinctive trajectories of growth and development. Participants do not enjoy equal access to these resources. Yet, all participants are responsible - and held accountable - for their various roles in the production of distinctive hardcore contexts; they are simultaneously implicated in the coming-together of the places in which they are ‘entangled’ (Ingold 2008). For the distinctive character of the scene is produced in the action of those bodies that are reflexively reconfigured and reconstituted in and through its production. DeNora asks the following about the listening body: ‘if its physical properties are “made” through interchange with materials that lie outside it, then should we not be able to observe this process and to document the mechanisms of this making?’ (2000, p.76). This study investigates the significance of hardcore music in the lives of participants by documenting the processes through which some of them come to constitute themselves as selves. Following DeNora’s notion of music as a ‘technology of self’, it finds that hardcore kids’ collective consumption of hardcore music works as an aesthetic resource that is reflexively appropriated in a corporeal process of becoming. Identities of the self and of the collective are emergent in this activity, which is mediated by the body in-process.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Hum, Lang & Soc Sc
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Hardcore music scene
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